Technology and I

Warning: this post might be long

Many have asked why the name Savvy Kenya? Well, a few years back I wanted to be computer savvy. When I was in high school I studied computer studies dropping French in the process. I just couldn’t deal with pronouncing r as eerrrrgh! Like it’s something disgusting! I remember doing my form four project in Pascal, and the days when we’d make the console beautiful by displaying green/yellow text on the black background. There was no internet connection in the labs those days, so there was no place to copy paste code from! How things have changed in just over 5 years!

We were only six of us taking computer studies, and we’d spend lots of time in the lab, experimenting with the console while playing Mario Mike, Dangerous Dave and Pacman. If you never played these games you’ll never know the joy of real gaming!

Image from

So after form four, I finally got an email address. That was in 2006, the same year I got my Safaricom line which I retain to this date (you know the trials and tribulations of Kuhama, I could write a book about this). Of course those days, it was all about Yahoo!.com. If you needed to join Gmail you needed an invite. I became a frequenter on Yahoo! Answers where I called myself Comp Savvy.

I started blogging in 2007 when I met this guy on whose programming ground I worshipped. He could code in all the languages I knew and he had a really funny blog. He’s the one who sent me an invite to Gmail. Anyway, in May 2007 I was finally admitted as a regular student at JKUAT to do BSc. Computer Science and started blogging about my campus life in 2008. I still used the name Savvy but someone at wordpress already had that ID so I chose savvy08.

I joined Facebook, but it has never really caught on with me. When I did join twitter in 2009, I found someone already using Savvy as their username so I decided Savvy Kenya. Well, enough history. So, am I really computer savvy?

Booksmart Vs Streetsmart

When you go to study computer science in university, you go to learn the mathematics and the science behind computers. You learn about how the first computers were designed on pen and paper theoretically long before the technology to build them was created (think Turing Machine). You learn to understand how operating systems work, how to evaluate the running time of an algorithm (big O notations and such) etc. To assist you in visualizing all this you have to do a number of mathematical units including Calculus, numerical linear algebra, scientific computing, probability and statistics etc.

This big O notation has nothing to do with the other O 🙂

You’ll be introduced to the basics of everything- computer technology is a wide and growing field- so you’ll be introduced to the mother(s) of all current programming languages- C, C++ and Java. If you’re doing IT, Visual Basic (got to make it soft for the er… I better not complete this). You’ll get to know networking concepts, hardware (switches, routers) and software(protocols). You’ll be given the basics in databases and you might be given an assignment in Ms Access (who uses that anymore?). No, you will not be taught Ms Word, try XYZetech College maybe.

After this, you will be given at least 3 hours per unit to do your lab work. For most students, they will take the time to look for the latest website that will allow them to bypass the proxy server so they can log onto Facebook. For a few, they will sit down and do some assignments. Some will Google, copy, paste and run the code.

Usually, university work is 90% theoretical. Assignments (if and when marked) carry only 10%. The continuous assessment tests (which you write on pen and paper) are about 20% of your final and the final written exam is 70%.

Should this system change? Should students learn more practical stuff so that they can be ready for the industry out there? Are there people who score highly in exams yet cannot do anything practical? What about modern technologies, should they be incorporated into the curriculum?

Incorporating modern technologies into the curriculum in university is like writing a book in Sheng. In a few years, it will be obsolete. So they syllabus should be based on the ‘science and mathematics’ behind computers, subject to regular revision, of course.

Should students learn more practical stuff? Yes. I would suggest the practical assignments be made to contribute at least 40% of the final score. Do away with CATs instead and let students do projects. Let them do their own research and develop a new method/application/anything useful.

Are there people who score highly in exams yet cannot do anything practical? Is the reverse possible?
Yes on both accounts. There are people who get first class honours degrees but cannot code and do not know how a crossover and straight through ethernet cable looks like except on paper. There are people that can code in languages like prolog but cannot hold pen and paper straight during exams.

My Advice?

Technology is a field of passion. If you do not have the passion for it, you’re in the wrong field! Unless you want to get stuck giving ‘user support’ to Ms Word users in government offices, I suggest you choose a different career path. If however, you are satisfied with working the phones at an ISP then go and do your Diploma in IT in peace 🙂

Does it have to be coding?

No. There are many computer-related jobs out there that do not require your coding. They however, need your brilliance, creativity and analytical skills. Database administrators, network specialists, software engineers (believe it or not, these guys are important), system analysts…. The choice is yours. Just because coding is not your first choice does not mean you suck at computer science!

Is Computer Science and IT the same thing?

It’s like saying Landscape Architecture and plain old Architecture are the same thing. Ask an Arch student in JKUAT and they’ll explain the difference to you. It’s like saying a Mercedes Benz and a Toyota are the same, iPhone 3Gs and IDEOS U8150 are the same thing. I could give you more examples but by now you get the difference. If you don’t you’re an IT graduate. IT graduates help users understand systems that computer science graduates develop. IT graduates install the OS, comp science graduates build the OS.

That’s not how it works in real life though! In the IT field, it’s a level playing ground. As I said, passion will get you anywhere.

So What About Me?

No, I am not totally clueless when it comes to coding. I understand all the intricate stuff. Trouble is, when in school, I did the minimum I needed to do to pass (okay, so I got all As in my math units). I mean I didn’t go the extra mile to learn stuff outside the coursework. I have a basic understanding of a number of languages but I am not a pro (for now) in any. I needed to find my niche. Will I specialize in network programming? Web programming? Mobile programming? Should I branch into networks? Databases? Security (na si G4S)?

Then this course chose me. I made a hurried application last minute and here I am!

I proved myself on paper when I got a first class honours degree. I did make a 2D game (desktop) for my final year project in Java and here, click to download and play it for yourself I hope you learn/remind yourself of some HIV/AIDS info from the background images.

It seems I am headed into the field of Mobile Programming (and telecoms in general) and this time, I go hard. Look out!

Keeping Away The Blues and the Finnish Lady

The blues...

Like every normal person, I have my down days. Days when I don’t want to get out of bed, days when I don’t feel I can face the day. I question my very existence and wonder if there is anything of worth I’ve done. I ask myself if I’m good enough at anything really, if I should even be living at all. I ask myself what kind of blogger I am etc. I like the feedback from readers, because most people say nice things 😉

Sometimes if I get a task and immerse myself into it, and if I achieve something by the end of the day, I will feel good about myself. Other times, I may do that and still go to bed feeling like a failure! Yes people, I have bad days too, dark stormy moments. I know I sound bright and cheery on this blog but that is not always the case.

So I trawl the interwebs googling myself to see what the internet can tell about me. Don’t act like you’ve never done that. That is how I landed on this blog: Southern Blogosphere, Interesting Blogs From The Developing World. Guess the first blog she ever reviewed! Mine. The Diary of a Kenyan Campus Girl.

Here is a couple of things she said about me that lift my spirits:

…is a narrative of a brave, cheerful student girl. Savvy (the author’s name in the blog) studies at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya. However, the blog is not about her studies but about all other interesting things. And this girl definitely knows how to write! Her style is daring, descriptive, open and full of wonderful self-irony.

Well, I can’t argue with that!

Savvy goes clubbing with friends, observes life and people around her, writes about idlers on street corners, sugar daddys and Chinese copy phones. One of my favorites is a blog from her weekend trip to visit a friend in Uganda – I felt as if I had been there with her!

I’m sure you all felt the same 🙂

I loved the blog Harambee Stars vs. Ugandan Cranes, in which Savvy sneaks out of church to be in time for an important football game:

“I’d bet heavily on the game: I was going to change my twitter name from Savvy Kenya to Savvy Uganda, and possibly my nationality too if the stars lost to the Cranes.

Having left church around noon, and changed from my dress to jeans and carried a borrowed vuvuzela, I got into a matatu around 1p.m. to town. Now, my small brother was in possession of the tickets and had been at the stadium since noon. He was giving us (my other bro and I) one hour to get to the stadium or he’d sell our tickets. I kept telling him am almost in town even when I was stuck in traffic because the Chinese constructors (contractors?)had decided Saturday was the best time to divert traffic to roadside paths.

By the time I finally got to the stadium, it was 3.30pm and my brothers were already inside. Somehow, we managed to communicate and they wrapped my ticket around a small flag they’d bought and threw it over the wall of the stadium. Of course, there were few spiderman wannabes who scaled the wall but since I had my ticket no need to resort to desperate measures.”

I couldn’t miss that match now, could I?

And on and on it goes, I definitely wrote a thank you email to this lady who made my day then, and still continues to do so whenever I re-read it.

She concludes:

Savvy is a middle-class, well educated African, who clearly wants to do something meaningful in her life. What will become of this interesting young woman?

How about the president of the East Africa Republic 20 years from now?

60 Seconds With Savvy Kenya

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

At first I wanted to be a pilot. When I was a kid, I used to watch the planes high in the sky, sometimes they left a trail of smoke behind, and think how I want to be high up in the clouds like them. Sad I’ve never actually flown, huh?

Then I went to school and I wanted to be a teacher.

Later, in primary school, I wanted to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer. It changed depending on who was asking me the question, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Though I remember Regine Re on Ommo Pick a Box, that program that used to air on KBC? My mum told me she’s an electrical engineer and for a while I wanted to be one.

Much later, in class six, I read Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands and I wanted to become a neurosurgeon. Tell me you didn’t dream of separating some Siamese twins after reading that book.

In short, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be when I was young. I was fickle.

Now I still have ambitions of being a world renowned novelist and a sports journalist so I can attend a world cup sponsored by my media house, of course.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

What’s the worst that could happen if you tried?

What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave?

If it was meant to be, it will. No point worrying about things you can’t control. Do what you can, you’ll know you did your best.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

Let’s say I’m currently jobless but we can talk about my most recent job. I was working with kids and I realized I’m not as bad with kids as I thought. I don’t mean babies and toddlers, but 9-15 year olds.

Oh, let’s not forget Friday afternoons. They were the best days in the office.

Who would you most like to have dinner with?

Paul Kagame. I got a number of questions to ask him, there was never time to talk a lot when I first met him.

Who is your role model?

This is a hard one. Most people just say their parents but it’s just an easy way out for answering this question. My parents inspire me, they really do. They both come from extremely humble backgrounds and they do the best for us. Wangari Mathai is another one, she’s my hero! Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison and came out with no bitterness, I don’t understand it! I’m not even 27 yet! There are many unsung heroes, people whose stories you’ll never see aired on CNN, let alone any local news channel, whom I look at every day and wish I could somehow acquire part of their character.

I had a role model when I was young, an older family friend. I went to the same primary school she went to, followed in her footsteps to the national secondary school she went, got the same grade in the secondary exam! She went to Moi University and got a first class honours degree in engineering. I went to JKUAT and got a first class honours degree in computer science. I guess you could say she’s one of my role models.

Another person who I’ve never met in person but inspires me online is Grace Mwaura. Google her!

There is no one person who is my role model; there are many from whom I’d like to copy some part of the character and somehow assimilate it in me. There is no space to name them all.

If you could be one person for a day, who would that be?

Barrack Obama. I would love to know how being the president of one of the world’s most powerful countries feels like. I hope no one tries to assassinate me while at it! Perhaps I would then get a chance to influence and change people’s lives in a big way. A lot can be done in a day!

Back in Nairobi

It is way past midnight-as I write this- and I don’t want to go to sleep, not just yet. I don’t want to lie awake for hours thinking, asking questions without answers. It’s the quest for the meaning of life; those are the questions I keep asking myself. It was easier when I was working because I had to sleep early, wake up early and there was many work-related things to occupy my mind. Now I’m kind of between jobs, you would say, so my day’s agenda consists of a little housework and which movie to watch afterwards. Sometimes I go to the cyber café and send out my CV plus application letter to places I dream of working in. Then the waiting begins. I want to do my Master’s Degree next year so I’ve also been doing lots of googling in that area.

I’m in a transitional period right now. I finished university a little less than three months ago (17 Dec 2010 to be precise) and I didn’t have a chance to cool down and think about what I really want to do in life. I got an internship opportunity in Rwanda and took the first bus out come January. I had the time of my life (cue for Greenday’s Time of Your Life) and would love to go back.

I want to travel, see the world. I don’t want a two-day, grab some souvenirs, sleeping at tourist hotels, stopover kind of travel, I want the 6 month or year long stay at a place where you get to know the real life there.

Anyway, there wasn’t much change in Nairobi in the two moths I was gone. There are now street numbers on buildings, which I started noticing sometime last year, but it will be a while before you tell someone to deliver something to 23, Moi Avenue. You’ll most likely still use the house name and colour amongst many other features. Few people even remember street names!

35, Tom Mboya Street

A street sign on Tom Mboya Street showing the address

Matatus are now required to have dustbins. The first time I saw a matatu with a dustbin, I was so impressed till I was later told it’s a requirement by the government. I suspect some people still continue to throw trash out of the window! My mum told me of this huge bus with a dustbin the size of a tea cup! I would think the dustbin would be proportional to the size of the vehicle!

In other news, it’s my friend’s birthday today. Happy birthday mon ami! On the exact same date next month, it will be my birthday too.